“Wake Up Africa!”

Tshepo Ricki Kgositau

There is music from our continent that will remain in our minds and hearts for a very long time, dare I say, forever actually. Most of those I will refer to are from a playlist I call Our Roots. In it there is Mam’Letta Mbulu’s Not yet Uhuru, My Mama Land by Yvonne Chakachaka, Lefatshe by Socca Moruakgomo, Salif Keita’ s iconic anthem Africa and Mambo from Jeff Maluleke ft the late Bra Hugh Masekela, Tsepo Tshola’s Nonyana, Phumelela by Miss Pru, Stimela’s Stop the War, Lucky Dube on Prisoner and the revolutionary Together as One, not forgetting Mam’Miriam Makeba’s Malaika and Brenda Fassie’s Black President and Memeza, to name but a few.

These arouse a spirit of nostalgia, ethno-pride and pan-Africanism; a view in the rear view of Mama Africa’s journey of having birthed and carried us through the wars and liberation struggles; of a future of the continent that draws its success from embracing and celebrating the rich diversity of her people in all their shades and complexions. They always remind me of the tenacity, resilience, strength and power of my people to have fought hard to break most (not all) of the bonds of servitude and slavery to beam with various economies doing well and some with the potential to compete with the powerhouses of the world, most which are our former oppressors.

With the recent spate of xenophobic and Afrophobic attacks (again) in South Africa, one cannot help but ask if the country is suffering from amnesia on a national level. An acute loss of memory of an Africa that just less than 26 years ago risked its own people and families to harbour, train, resource and support them to gain their freedom from apartheid as one of the last African countries to be under the violent, forced and arbitrary rule of the white man.

I for one remember the parcel bombs that were sent to some of our families in Botswana, for instance, and some parts of the continent, when we housed South Africans from the lethal violence of the apartheid machine. We even have monuments erected to remember these heroines, heroes and superheroes who risked their own lives to save abantubaseMzansi we Afrika when the boers were wiping them and us off of the face of the earth. How then is it that these very people we saved from genocide turn around to call us foreigners and kill us for that very reason? What ailment is this?

It is sad and pathetic to construe that these very borders we have inherited draw a line of difference between us all are disappointedly an arbitrary process through which the colonial masterminds devised a centuries old strategy to divide and conquer, to conquer and rule, to rule and continue to control, manipulate and extort for generations after themselves. The assignment of borders on our continent was no consultative process through which many of us who were communities that were nomadic and living across vast stretches of territory were split in half and at times in three-ways by these very borders. You have the Tswana nation that was split between Namibia, South Africa and Botswana, Kiswahili speaking communities in Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Mozambique the Karanga/Kalanga and Zezuru lineage split between Zimbabwe and Botswana, and the list is endless.

We have chosen, as Africans, to ignore all our pre-colonial heritage and deem others foreigners on their very continent, all the while advancing and safeguarding the legacy of our white oppressors who came to this continent in the late 1800s with this exact vision to have us dislike, hate and strip off all of our identity and heritage to take theirs. These violent human beings called colonialists have been quoted and paraphrased as saying that to control a people, firstly you have to demonise their cultural heritage, norms and practices in order to offer something of your own individual choosing as an alternative. This has seen the demonisation of our traditional doctors, herbalists and seers/sangomas, with the white imposed alternative of a medical doctor, pharmacist and even prophets. Of course, one will not pretend that there are not better advancements that modern medicine has come with. That being said, its introduction on our shores by white colonialists was not done in an integrative way but instead one that sought to invisibilise, erode and erase that which they found on our land and in us.

Then there is the introduction of foreign (non-African) spiritual and religious doctrines that have erased African traditional faith and spiritual practices, belief systems and customs, and introducing divisive, more oppressive, discriminatory and dare I say, hateful religious belief systems. These have influenced and continue to influence exclusionary, violent and regressive/stagnating legislation and policies on the continent that continue to be the trump card of many charismatic African politicians and political discourse. All these added to the separation of a people that used to freely roam their continent and created a culture of hating one another and of hating the self.

Watch as the numbers grow of us who continue to bleach our skin in an attempt to match the standard of beauty set by the white man and the white woman. A standard of being deemed as beautiful when our skin a fairer or when our eye colour is not black or dark brown, or that we ought to have silky straight hair with inches going beyond our rumps and that we should have flat tummies and velvet smooth limbs with waxed body hairs. This is a sustained self-hate left by white standards of Africanness and of beauty that we have even created labels to affirm and celebrate our colourism. Look at most music videos that have a woman in the lead role: she is often lighter with silky hair, and they call her a ‘yellow bone’ who is more prioritised than a ‘Brownie’ or ‘Nubian Queen.’

We suffer from acute neo-colonialism if ever there were a diagnosis for our ailment or a label for the strategy that the thieves of our land deployed. I can never forget how teachers and fellow pupils teased my childhood best friend Omphemetse Mlandu now Seduku for being a dark-skinned girl when we were in primary school. She has this ebony skin with big round eyes and gorgeous eyelashes and brows and a gorgeous curvy body. Yet she was teased and called all sorts of names such as morubisi (an owl), mmantsho (darkie), moloi (witch) and lefifi (night or darkness) just as examples of this bullying and violence, all which did not celebrate the gorgeousness of her skin or structure in totality.

Have you ever asked yourself why we detest our own skin colour this much? Do you ever see an advertisement of a skin product that enhances black skin to look more dark-beautiful? Very few, if they do exist, and certainly not proliferated as much as those that ‘improve pigmentation’ or lighten the skin? And that very white person that taught us of all these toxic ideals and standards now hypersexualises Black African men for their apparent sexual endowment and African women for the African bootie and curves.

How mistaken we were to have allowed this someone to teach us to hate our own skin and then come back to make millions from ‘discovering’ and showcasing African beauty in their documentaries, music, videos, films and magazines. Wake up, Africans. They are capitalising on our identity, an identity they have stripped us of. Let us not forget that we fought hard to reclaim our identity, our heritage, our land and our freedom, successfully, to a degree. We managed to regain the land and some bit of true freedom, but we never regained the love for each other and ourselves collectively.

About the Author:Tshepo Ricki Kgositau is a seasoned human rights advocate, researcher, trans personality, feminist, sexual & reproductive health rights specialist.